Every June a wonderful display of foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) occurs at sites across Dorset, especially at Arne. They continue to flower on through until September with even some late specimens seen in October some years. Although commonly a flower of acid woodland they also occur on acid grasslands and heaths. They are less likely to be seen on chalk or limestone.
We all know foxgloves; the pixie hats of our younger days! The Latin name has a pretty obvious English translation, purple fingers, and I am sure we all have put one of the flowers on our finger at some point in our younger days. The foxglove is, however, poisonous and best not consumed in any form! It contains a steroid, digoxigenin, in its flowers and leaves which is used in DNA analysis.
The foxglove is a good example of how plants avoid pollinating themselves! The flowers open from the bottom and the female stigma is receptive before the male stamens produce pollen. The main pollinators of the plant are bees which can only get in to the larger flowers and so they start at the bottom and work up depositing any pollen they have picked up from another plant as they go. As the large flower bells fade after pollination so the flowers further up the plant grow larger allowing the bees to enter those flower and so on up the stem.